Divergent and it was good enough to make my "best of" list for 2011. So it goes without saying that Roth's sequel, Insurgent , was on my "most anticipated" list for 2012. Unfortunately "Insurgent" suffers from a sophomore slump and fails to capture the emotional oomph of the first book.
One choice can transform you—or it can destroy you. But every choice
has consequences, and as unrest surges in the factions all around her,
Tris Prior must continue trying to save those she loves—and
herself—while grappling with haunting questions of grief and
forgiveness, identity and loyalty, politics and love.
initiation day should have been marked by celebration and victory with
her chosen faction; instead, the day ended with unspeakable horrors. War
now looms as conflict between the factions and their ideologies grows.
And in times of war, sides must be chosen, secrets will emerge, and
choices will become even more irrevocable—and even more powerful.
Transformed by her own decisions but also by haunting grief and guilt,
radical new discoveries, and shifting relationships, Tris must fully
embrace her Divergence, even if she does not know what she may lose by
Normally I write my own synopsis when I review a book. It serves a couple of purposes--but the main one is to summarize the book without trying to sell it. However "Insurgent" wasn't one I felt lent itself to an easy description because it seemed more like a series of events than a well rounded story.
Roth jumps right into the story where it left off at the end of
"Divergent" and it's a book that demands you be really familiar with the
first book: so much so that, despite rereading "Divergent" shortly
before reading "Insurgent," I was still fairly confused right from the
start. Unlike most sequels Roth never revisits the circumstances where
we first met many of the characters and it's easy
to forget why we should find an attachment to them or even remember why
they're significant. The narrative is handled in the same clumsy manner and, unlike the first book, jumps to various locations in a way that is confusing and often implausible. The logistics of the book aren't well thought out at all- for example: there's so little distance between warring factions that a character can cross over to enemy territory after a short run and not find any resistance unless they literally present themselves to the enemy- which is just plain silly.
The success of the first book of the Divergent trilogy had a lot to do with the insight into human nature that came with dividing society into different factions based on personality traits. There were some weak points from a logical standpoint but Roth had a way with hitting emotional triggers that enabled the narrative to move beyond its shortcomings. But the main idea of Divergence, when a person has the personality traits of more than one faction, was always a weak foundation to build the whole trilogy on and I'm afraid that it's the main reason "Insurgent" fails to live up to its predecessor.
The most intriguing aspect of "Divergent" was learning about the different factions. It was tempting to try to think of them in a "Harry Potter" kind of way but the more you got into the story the more fun it was to see how they were different and uncover the mystery of why they were created in the first place. The idea of Divergence was all about hiding ones differences from those who would destroy you for not fitting into a specific faction- but it was only a small part of the book and the way it was worked into the ending didn't detract from the overall story. In "Insurgent" Roth attempts to expand upon the idea of Divergence and make it a far more significant in the overall narrative. The problem with that comes with trying to explain it without any real logic or science to back up the idea -- after all how anyone could not be Divergent is the big question that is never answered. It's not enough to make us feel like it's an interesting idea, we need to believe it's plausible, but there's no there there- so to speak.
However, if I had to pick the main failing of "Insurgent," it would have to be the issue of consistency. Tris and Four, the main characters of both books, seemed very different this time around. The relationship between the two had a natural flow in the first book and you wanted to see them together. But in "Insurgent" Roth has the two at odds in a way that feels forced and contrived to bend the story a certain way rather than keep the integrity of the original characterizations. Tris has also gone from a decisive, strong character to one who cries with little provocation throughout the second half of the book- something I'm sure was meant to show growth but only served to make the character more irritating.
There were some glimmers of what made the first book so entertaining. Roth still has a talent for tapping into the emotions of the reader and, every once in a while, offers some good insight into basic human behavior. She also ended the book with a nice cliff-hanger that will probably be enough to get most fans to continue on through to the end of the series. But, for me, "Insurgent" was a disappointment and a book that I had to force myself to finish.
2 out of 4 stars.